The Senate Thursday night approved a $10.8 billion House bill to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent through next May.
This ensures that highway funding will continue for the next 10 months, a relief to states that had been concerned about the possibility of cutbacks but nevertheless a failure by Congress to address the nation’s long-term highway needs.
Had the Senate not acted, the Department of Transportation was ready to start cutting reimbursements to states for highway projects they have completed. The Fund was on track to dip into the red in August, and DOT was preparing to implement a cash management program.
In an 81-13 vote around 9 p.m. Thursday the Senate cleared a House bill that it had rejected two days earlier.
This followed the House’s rejection of the Senate’s version of the patch, which would have extending funding only through December 19.
Senators who pushed the shorter patch said they wanted to force Congress to act on a long-term highway bill before the end of this year. They rejected the May patch because it increases the likelihood that Congress will default to another short-term extension.
But the House was not willing to set a December deadline. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said that would not be enough time to figure out how to pay for a long-term bill.
He said there are a variety of ways to pay for a longer bill besides the traditional approach of raising the fuel tax, and promised to have Ways and Means hold a hearing in September.